I drove up the long driveway into the Wheatley Heights parking lot of the Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts, excited, giddy even, and a bit nervous — just like any child coming to camp for the first time.
I'd been to Usdan before — for orientations and visiting days and performances — each just a peek into my daughter's summerlong camp experience. But this time, a hot summer day eight years ago, I was there for me — to attend a day of camp for adults called Usdan University.
I am not a dancer or a singer or an athlete. But that day, I did a bit of everything. Just over a mile from my office, I found myself in a Broadway Jazz class, where I learned — or, rather, attempted to learn — the famous Bob Fosse choreography to "All That Jazz" from "Chicago." And in an all-adult choir, where I learned — or attempted to learn — the alto part of the beloved Nat "King" Cole classic "Smile." And walking through the woods with dozens of adults, singing, laughing, supporting one another, even enjoying an ice cream snack.
It's an experience that's even more worthwhile today as life's challenges pile up, as it has become even more important to find joy and make connections and embrace the arts.
As camps, including Usdan, prepare this week to welcome children for the summer, a camp for grown-ups sounds pretty incredible. A day to recharge, to reconnect, to meet new friends and learn new skills, to enjoy the arts or sports or swimming or boating, to immerse ourselves in nature.
Earlier this year, current Usdan executive director Lauren Brandt Schloss proposed a "glamping" experience where adults and families could stay overnight in temporary tents, with the proceeds helping to fund Usdan's all-important scholarships for children and teens.
Last month, however, Usdan withdrew its special-use permit application to the Town of Huntington, after getting pushback from neighbors and others.
Perhaps it's unsurprising that Huntington residents, or perhaps those from any community across Long Island, would object to Usdan's overnight plan. A day at camp might do many of them good, too.
And while the overnight "glamping" idea won't go forward, Schloss isn't giving up on bringing camp, and its "natural beauty" and "transformative power of the arts," to grown-ups. Schloss rightly notes that as adults, with responsibilities and jobs and children of our own, it's easy to lose touch with our creativity and passions, with the ability to learn for ourselves and discover something we might love to do — beyond even our work and families.
"It's a very hard time to be a grown-up," Schloss said. "[This is] the chance to think creatively, and also be in an immersive, beautiful natural environment, to feel like there's a safe place in the world … It's really an escape here. Applying that to grown-ups especially now, that's good for all of us."
So, a return to Usdan University, or another similar day camp experience for adults at Usdan, hopefully isn't too far away. Perhaps more summer camps could follow, giving more grown-ups a chance to experience a glorious "camp day" — a day to find our inner artist or athlete or nature lover, a day where the most important question is whether we want chocolate or vanilla ice cream at the end of the day. (Chocolate. Always chocolate.).
Perhaps I'll even get my chance to find my inner Fosse again … and All That Jazz.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.